Parents Just Saying ‘No’ to Birthday Gifts

Discussion
Jul 29, 2010
George Anderson

By George Anderson

It may be a good lesson for young kids on the value of human relationships
over material things, but if a lot of people follow the example of Bill Doherty,
a researcher in childhood consumer culture at the University of Minnesota and
co-founder of BirthdaysWithoutPressure.org, retailers could see a big drop-off
in the amount of goods purchased as birthday gifts.

What Mr. Doherty and other like-minded
parents have done is tell others attending their kids’ parties to forget about
bringing a gift.

Alissa Michelin Nierenberg, who lives in Manhattan, told the New
York Post
that
she came to the conclusion that all the gift giving “is ridiculous” while
on a gift buying trip to purchase 50 presents for the parties her two kids
would attend over the course of a year.

Ms. Nierenberg, said of her own daughter, “When
she’s 75 percent
finished opening one gift, she’s onto the next; all she cares about is
the cake.”

Birthdays Without Pressure offers a list of examples of birthdays gone wild
on its website. Here are some of the least extreme examples.


  • A Chicago party invitation requests gifts worth at least $35 because gifts
    worth only $10 at the previous year’s party did not cover the family’s cost
    for the event.
  • Also in Chicago, half-year parties are in vogue.
  • Parents are setting up birthday party registries on sites such as Amazon.com.
  • Opening gifts at a one year old’s party in Minnesota community takes two
    hours while the guest of honor sleeps.

Many parents are fighting back against these excesses, asking those who feel
they need to give something at a party to make a donation to charity instead.

Ms. Nierenberg
told the Post that she used ECHOage.com for one of her
kids’ birthdays. Half of the donations from the party went to a charity chosen
by her child ($450 for Free the Children) while the rest, minus a 15 percent
administration fee, went to buying a gift for the birthday child.

Discussion Questions: Are there ways retailers can actively work with parents
looking to create more responsible birthday celebrations?
For those consumers
intent on going overboard, what can retailers do to capture more of their business?

Please practice The RetailWire Golden Rule when submitting your comments.

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14 Comments on "Parents Just Saying ‘No’ to Birthday Gifts"


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David Biernbaum
Guest
10 years 9 months ago

I’m fascinated by the sudden realization that children’s birthdays have become almost as material and expensive as weddings but I think retailers will be absolutely fine even with this new conscientious movement to just say “no.”

Alison Chaltas
Guest
Alison Chaltas
10 years 9 months ago

The “no gift” birthday party has become the rage among my third grader’s friends. You’re now a greedy parent if you don’t say “no gits.” In most cases the families ask guests to donate to a specific charity.

This is so much bigger than a retail marketing play. It really is a convergence of economic pressures, living simply, creating a smaller carbon footprint by using less, planting the seeds for philanthropy, and teaching kids to care about others. Some of these trends are here to stay and certainly have hit retail sales hard.

The question is how much of this is permanent or is this a fad as the pendulum shifts from excessive party throwing and gift giving for kids to “no gifts.” My money is on the bet that the world settles in the middle and we go back to a place where birthday gifts come once a year and are for <$20.

Gene Hoffman
Guest
Gene Hoffman
10 years 9 months ago

All roads that lead to excess today are being exploited. Moderation in most things is projected as being boring.

We have created an era where nothing is being considered successful as excess. As Mark Twain reminded us, “More than one cigar at a time is excessive smoking” and it would seem to follow that birthday party excesses are not parental charity or character building in children.

Warren Thayer
Guest
10 years 9 months ago

This is more a case of something getting publicity, versus any sea change in how kids’ birthdays are celebrated. You’ll always have the folks who go overboard, the folks who cut spending or make charitable donations, and the huge group in the middle to whom this will be pretty much off the radar.

Dan Berthiaume
Guest
Dan Berthiaume
10 years 9 months ago

Research or no research, I find it hard to believe retailers have to worry about a serious decline in kids’ birthday gifts. I wouldn’t mind seeing less of the extreme fawning highlighted on TV shows like “My Sweet 16,” but a compete 180-degree turnaround is highly unlikely.

Anne Howe
Guest
10 years 9 months ago

Amen Alison Chaltas. I completely concur, except for one minor point. Since my kids are double the age of her kids, but still expect birthday presents (at least from me), I have to move the $20 up to $50. Plus beer and wine in the fridge! (yes, they are all 21+).

Roger Saunders
Guest
10 years 9 months ago

We all have signed into manufacturers’ and retailers’ offices, pledging that we “won’t buy them lunch, golf, gifts, etc.” And, likely, there are varied opinions about this sea change that has taken place.

However, this is likely to be a non-sustainable movement when it comes to “gift-giving” over the long term. Offering gifts, receiving them, and learning the appropriateness of each has been a part of life-growing patterns for humans since the dawn of man/womankind. Gifts are part of human kindness, fun, and thoughtfulness.

Teaching kids about the experience is part of the social upbringing in culture after culture. While amount expended and the gift offered/received may fluctuate in certain circles, the act is not likely to go away.

Gene Detroyer
Guest
10 years 9 months ago

Where were these outrageous birthday parties when I was a kid celebrating my birthday? In any case, my colleagues have commented wisely. And, Alison has expressed it perfectly.

While the trend for these outrageous parties has been growing over the last 10 years (20 years?) the retailers have had a real gimme…sales without promotion. How should retailers react? My advice is: don’t fight the trend and cut inventories.

Bill Hanifin
Guest
10 years 9 months ago

The examples in the article are so over-the-top that one has to smile as much and just take it all with a grain of salt.

I think it might be too much to ask toddler birthday parties to go green and start asking for eco-credit donations instead of Transformers, but I believe the excess is often in the entertainment, not the gift giving.

Most people bring the customary $20-25 gift and, if you are a friend, I see nothing wrong with it. As parents, we should remove pressure from ourselves by limiting the venues, tents, clowns, ponies, and face-painters rented. Nothing against these folks, but enough is enough.

Retailers don’t need to take action here, parents do….

Ed Rosenbaum
Guest
10 years 9 months ago
I am out of the kids birthday party generation except for my grandsons. When I watch my grandsons opening their presents they seem pleased and gracious to have received the gift. But, I am in total agreement that focusing on non birthday party gifts is the right thing to do. Can you even imagine someone telling you gifts of $35.00 or more because that is what it takes to cover the expense of a child’s birthday party? Come on now! We are talking about children; but it appears the problem is the parents trying to out do one another while using the child as the focus. How outrageous can we become? This is just too much to fathom; but why am I surprised? Bar and Bat Mitzvah’s cost as much as weddings or college educations. Now isn’t that a sad statement to have to make or for you to have to read? The expense of one day being more than a four year education. I was a member of an organization that met monthly. Years… Read more »
Kevin Graff
Guest
10 years 9 months ago

Oh, I do hope this becomes the norm and fast! As the father of a 5 and 6 year old, it seems we have to be at a birthday party almost every week. $20 presents don’t seem to cut it anymore either! Then, when it comes time to host a birthday party for your kids, the loot bag of old (filled with basically trinkets and trash) is frowned on. Now all the party goers leave with an expensive new toy of their own.

The creative retailer may be able to find a way to tag onto this movement, combine it with the charitable cause, and still produce a healthy profit.

Eliott Olson
Guest
Eliott Olson
10 years 9 months ago

Thank you Bill and your fun police for bringing this serious problem to the nations attention. While helicopter moms on both sides of the isle have their opinions on how their children will fulfill their unrealized dreams from play dates to job performance your thoughts bring clarity to their a* retentive lives.

With regards to the crisis with birthdays, the only solution is to have the federal government step in and fix the two major problems.

First all birthday gifts should have a user tax of at least 500%. The revenues will be used not only to reduce the deficit but to insure that we spread the gifts.

Secondly the attending of weekly birthday parties contributes to this nation’s plague of childhood obesity.

The sugar and caloric content of all birthday cakes should be monitored and regulated by a presidential cake czar. Better yet, the government should ensure that those words spoken by Marie Antoinette “Let them eat cake” will never again be uttered at an American birthday party.

Odonna Mathews
Guest
Odonna Mathews
10 years 9 months ago

There has always been some excess in birthday parties but the examples cited are “over the top” for most people. I think there are opportunities for retailers to make planning parties simpler for parents by arranging kid oriented gifts, gift cards, party supplies, wrapping paper, games, etc. in one area of the store. Why not add a section for environmental oriented gifts as well as products or services that benefit local and/or national charities?

Making it simpler would be welcome by many parents who still will have a party whether they take the “no gifts” route or the traditional.

James Avilez
Guest
James Avilez
10 years 9 months ago

I actually laughed out loud when I read about the half year party.

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